Publication Age of Respected Books

Nov 2015
Western United States
I sense there is a strong bias in our Great Forum for more recent literature.

What is the "rule of thumb" for respectability? 10 years or less? Under 20 years?

It stood out to me because before I got here, I was buying a lot of used nonfiction books at Thrift Books ($4 delivered). What I am realizing is they were mostly really old. As in 20, 25, and even 30 year old books.


Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
Canary Islands-Spain
It dependes of the issue, but recent books need to pass the exam of time. They are more aseptic in terminology usage (no more "race of barbarians" and stuff like that), and have brand new data. So new, that in 5 years they are oldfashioned.

Older books are usually better written, with better narrative, you can really enjoy readinig one of those 19th century books. Many of them have resisted critizism, overpassing new "evidences" that turned to be wrong, but overall they have worst hard data.

I would say an adequate balance would be 1950-2000.
Oct 2011
the middle ground
Interesting observation.
I'm into world history, which didn't really became a 'formal' discipline until the early 1980s or so. Many of the classic surveys of broad themes came out of that time (say, after 1985). But Fernand Braudel, William H McNeill, and Jacques Barzun were writing in the generations before that. Their works are still standards because of their erudition and elegance.
I am in general agreement with Frank81 here.
Jan 2015
From the standpoint of a historical reenactor, we are ALWAYS looking for new stuff! There are old favorites and standby works, like Peter Connolly and John Warry, and those are still brilliant and indispensible in some ways, but outdated or debunked in a few aspects. Mostly they're just missing the latest hard data from archeology and such.

Unfortunately, *significant* archeological finds can take literally 10 or 20 years to get properly published! So even the next generation of really good books might be missing some crucial piece. It's frustrating! It also means that a brand-new report on excavations done in the 1980s may be VERY important.

Note that newer is not always better. The latest hot new theory might be full of holes (Gregory Aldrete springs to mind), or like some old standbys, be a mix of brilliant and hair-tearing.

So I've been seeing the new things I *ought* to read, and cringing at the possibility of wading through dreck to find pearls. Happily, a friend has loaned me one of those, and I am loving it because it's all by different experts who are beating each other over the head with all the primary sources I've neglected to study! So even the parts I think are flat-out wrong are an excellent lesson on the issues. ("Men of Bronze", edited by Kagan, if you're curious!)

Dare to read! Fiction is totally different, of course. I was halfway through the Lord of the Rings and actually shelved it to read Men of Bronze. That's saying something! It's okay, I know most of Tolkien by heart.



Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
In the most well traveled fields I think 1950s or occasionally a bit earlier shouldn't lead someone too far astray though obviously not everything will be correct. The research in less well traveled areas of history is more hit and miss with some of the pioneers doing excellent work and some being way off so probably it is interesting to get some of the best rated recent books and see who they list as sources to buy at the thrift stores.
May 2009
Age doesn't matter to me as much as how often a certain book is cited by other historians. That's the real test of value. A book might be 70 years old, but if modern historians are still referencing it and using it in their own research, it's probably worth a read. Bibliographies are a good place to get a general consensus on what the important books on a subject are.
Feb 2011
Perambulating in St James' Park